Smoky River Regional Economic Development

Dan Dibbelt
Smoky River Regional
Economic Development

Check out ‘Occupied’ on Netflix

My wife and I just finished watching a great television series on Netflix.

‘Occupied’ is a Norwegian based television series with English subtitles, whose premise is Norway decides to end oil production. You will get used to the English subtitles after the first show and you will be hooked by the second episode. I couldn’t help but compare Norway to Alberta.

That seems to be the latest trend, what if we ran Alberta more like Norway? After all Norway has $1 trillion in the bank, free healthcare and free post-secondary tuition. Alberta, not so much.

Norway is pretty similar to us. They have five million residents; we have just over four million. They are a northern country, have similar weather and are a resource economy, like us. But there are differences. Alberta is more than 668 hundred thousand square kilometers, Norway has about 385 hundred thousand square kilometers, though most of their population is based in the south. But most importantly, Norway is a country and Alberta is a province, a member of a federation, with obligations to and responsibilities for funding socio-economic programs for the rest of the country.

Another key difference is that Norway is surrounded by water. Norway, unlike landlocked Alberta, does not need to negotiate with a neighbour to see if they can build a pipeline and dock oil tankers on their shore.

Both Canada and Norway frequently top the list of the best place in the world to live, though in the recent World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, Canada rated number two overall (number one for quality of life) and Norway didn’t make the top 25.

There seems to be a need to compare Alberta and Norway because of our economies, we are both resource rich, commodity driven governments. A recent news article in the Edmonton journal stated that between 2000 and 2014 on a net basis, Alberta shipped to Ottawa more than $200 billion. In 2007 and 2008 we shipped $20 billion annually to Ottawa.

That would start to explain why Alberta does not have a trillion-dollar savings account. But even if we could, I would have to question why. Canada is considered to have one of the best quality of lives in the world, and we have that distinction for many reasons, among them we spend money on the needs and wants of our people.

In Alberta we like to criticise the previous government for not saving more and we criticize the present government for going in debt. I don’t blame the previous government for not saving more, they spent money on roads and schools and hospitals, all things I and my family have benefitted from. And yes they spend money on industry, industry that created jobs, built infrastructure and generated tax revenues.

I do not blame the present government for incurring debt. Build infrastructure now when interest rates are low, unemployment is high and developers are competing for work, making bids more reasonable.

I appreciate it is a gamble, that we will have to deal with a debt down the road, but we won’t be the first province to have to deal with that, and should oil prices recover, we will have the infrastructure in place to deal with its growth.

In the meantime, before you think Norway has it all. I did a little research on quality of life comparisons. Despite a sizeable savings account, Norwegians pay substantially higher taxes than we do in Alberta. I choose to focus on health, crime and affordability of housing, and I was a bit surprised.

I looked at stats for Edmonton and Norway. Indeed, Edmonton scored higher in crime than Norway. The overall level in crime for Edmonton was rated moderate while Norway was rated as low, but while Edmonton rated moderate on crime increasing in the next three years, Norway rated high.

Housing was considerably more affordable in Canada with mortgage as percentage of income rated just under 35 per cent, while Norway was just under 50 per cent. On the price to rent ration, again Edmonton rated about 16 per cent while Norway was just under 23 per cent.

So how do we do we rate with healthcare? Edmonton rated higher than Norway on skill and competency of medical staff, equipment for diagnosis and reports and accuracy.

Edmonton also scored higher on satisfaction with cost to the patient and convenience of location.

Norway does offer free post-secondary tuition. Alberta does not, however, Alberta subsidizes post-secondary education by about 75 percent, pretty reasonable.

We have a habit of thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. The fact is life is great in Canada and in particular Alberta.

For the next while we will be wading through some weeds and that is when we most often see how better everyone else has it.

Around 1,162,900 foreign-born people immigrated to Canada between 2006 and 2011. They too were looking for greener pastures. I trust they found them.

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